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6 Reasons Using Someone’s Correct Gender Pronouns Is Important for Their Mental Health

“Mom, for Ameera, we use they or them pronouns, we don’t say she or her. We do this because we respect Ameera for who they are.”

I sat back smiling to myself, on the verge of tears as I heard a friend carefully and thoughtfully explain my use of gender-neutral pronouns to his mother. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel the burden of explaining, and I was overcome with feelings of being seen, heard, and supported. My heart swelled once again when she responded with acceptance and warmth, and immediately hugged me. It was a marked difference from some of the responses I got from friends or family when I first told them, ranging from not understanding at all, to being distracted and not really paying attention. I was speechless as I thought to myself, “Wow. This is what it feels like to be affirmed for who I really am.”

Using someone’s correct gender pronouns is about so much more than switching three or four-letter words. It’s about seeing them for who they really are. Frankly, it’s not the pronouns themselves that make me feel accepted for who I am, but rather what the use of correct pronouns represents in terms of affirming my identity. And that seemingly small pronoun shift can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health for several reasons. These are some of the ways correct pronoun use benefits my mental health, but it’s important to recognize that the reasons may be different for others. 

1. It makes them feel seen for who they really are.

For most of my life, people have seen me as a girl or a woman and assumed my gender identity. When someone uses they/them pronouns, I feel like they’re acknowledging they don’t see me as a woman, and are instead seeing me the way I see myself. I felt ashamed of my true self for so long, and that bred so much self-hate and depression. Each time my correct pronouns are used, some of that hate and shame melt away. 

2. It shows you respect them and their identity.

My depression always tells me that I don’t matter and that people in my life don’t really care about me. When someone puts the effort in to consciously think about using they/them pronouns for me, it makes me feel respected. Seeing people respect me enough to pause and change their old, default ways of addressing me helps me feel like people care enough to do that for me. Subsequently, when someone continually slips up, I’m not mad about the pronoun miss, but I’m mad that they still see me as a woman, and not as someone gender nonconforming. Because if they did see me as who I really am, I wouldn’t be associated with she/her pronouns. It tells me instead of them trying to understand me truly, they’re just trying to change a word to appease me.

“Being able to become more comfortable in my gender-nonconforming skin has been one of the greatest influences on fostering positive mental health.”

3. It fosters feelings of acceptance and belonging.

I’ve spent far longer pretending to be a woman than being who I really am, I grew used to never feeling like I belonged or was accepted. Many spaces still aren’t accepting or inclusive of transgender and nonbinary folks. Using my correct pronouns helps counteract the anxiety and isolation that comes with never feeling accepted. I may be in a space where most people assume my pronouns are she/her, but someone I’m with will use my correct pronouns or correct the other person, and it slightly eases my discomfort. 

4. It normalizes not assuming someone’s gender.

Almost everyone assumes another person’s gender based on their appearance. Whether we consciously do it or not, the thought process is something like: “If they have long hair and a curvy body, they must be a woman, and therefore must use she/her pronouns.” The more we use someone’s correct pronouns that may differ from initial assumptions, the more we normalize the notion that we can’t assume someone’s pronouns based on their appearance. I’m often the only one that uses pronouns that differ from what someone may assume. That can be pretty depressing, lonely, and anxiety-inducing. Spaces where people default to asking about pronouns before assuming feel much safer. 

5. It’s the same as getting someone’s name right.

I’ve seen countless examples of people spelling someone’s name wrong, or mispronouncing their name, or simply using the wrong name altogether. In each of these instances, the person may feel upset because it makes them feel small, or unseen. If we can understand that getting someone’s name right is important, we can understand that pronouns are no different. It’s about acknowledging someone for who they are. For minorities especially, someone saying their name is “too hard” to pronounce reinforces the idea that we should have to change ourselves and adjust to make it easier for others. The same can be said for pronouns; people will often say, “oh, it’s just hard for me to adjust because it’s different,” or, “oh I don’t mean to, it just doesn’t feel grammatically correct.” It places their ease ahead of my identity, and that often makes me feel worthless.

6. Incorrect pronoun use is a microaggression.

Microaggressions are seemingly subtle or small forms of discrimination, which individually seem small, but the compounding can have significant impacts. It’s the daily prejudice we may face whether it’s intentional or not. Over time, continued use of wrong pronouns becomes a macroaggression; a blatant disregard or unwillingness to address someone correctly. Microaggressions and macroaggressions take a toll, often making them more anxious and depressed. 

When I think back to my friend calmly unburdening me and taking the time to have that conversation so I could feel more comfortable, I feel a mix of peace and euphoria. I’m reminded of when I initially told a few friends about wanting to test out they/them pronouns, and they responded with love and a sense of normalcy that felt so accepting. Being able to become more comfortable in my gender-nonconforming skin has been one of the greatest influences on fostering positive mental health. That comfort is inextricably linked to the community around me using the right pronouns. The impact of correct pronoun use on a person’s self-esteem, confidence, self-worth, and self-image cannot be understated because of what it represents about a person being loved, seen, and respected for who they truly are, not who society tells them they have to be.

For more on this topic, check out our list of the LGBTQIA+ Mighty writers you should read.

Getty Images photo via Westend61

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